Catfish: What You Need to Know About How They See

Catfish: What You Need to Know About How They See
Catfish have beady, useless-looking eyes, but when conditions are right, eyesight greatly influences their behavior.

During a recent fishing trip, one of the fish I managed to land turned out to be a blind blue catfish. Both the fish's eyes had been injured and destroyed somehow. Yet despite this disfigurement, this 16-pound catfish was still very healthy. Its belly was bulging with food. It fought powerfully when hooked and swam away quickly when released.

Catfish have beady, useless-looking eyes, but when conditions are right, eyesight greatly influences their behavior.

Incidents like this prove that catfish don't require eyesight to find food. When necessary, they compensate for blindness by employing their other extraordinary senses. They do so daily in some environs, even with normal eyes. In muddy water, for example, vision may be so limited, catfish rely totally on other sensory elements — taste, scent, sound, etc. — to pinpoint meals. The fish live healthy lives, nevertheless. Does this mean catfish eyes are useless? Of course not. Catfish have excellent eyesight, despite popular misconceptions. Vision aids them in ways you might never imagine. Did you know, for example, catfish fear shadows? Scientists discovered this while studying catfish senses in the laboratory.

"We found our experiments could be fouled up for weeks just because someone put their hand over the top of a tank,"


said Dr. John Caprio, who conducted the studies at Louisiana State University. Dr. Caprio's laboratory had overhead lighting. If something passed between the lights and one of the aquariums, creating a shadow, the catfish in the aquarium scurried into a plastic tube the scientist had provided for the fish's security. Only when the shadow was long gone would the catfish venture back out to feed. Why is this happening? Dr. Caprio wondered. Could it be a response to predators? To see, he placed a bird predator silhouette above a tank. "When I did that, the catfish went into its tube and would not come out," Caprio says. "It would literally starve to death before it went out to get food just inches away '¦ unless you turned the lights off and the shadow disappeared. Then it would come out immediately and feed." We can say with certainty, therefore, that the eyes of catfish help them avoid animals that might prey on them. They see a shadow pass overhead and they hide somewhere to avoid the creature that made the shadow. Remember that next time you're catfishing: shadows are bad karma. That's why night-fishing and fishing from a distance often are more productive, particularly in clear waters. Never cast a shadow on the water you're fishing if you want to enjoy success. Do catfish eyes detect more than shadows? Yes. Cones in the eyes indicate catfish have color vision, and this is borne out by the experiments of some anglers.


In his book Catfishing (North American Fishing Club, 1992), author Chris Altman, an avid cat man, wrote about one angler who places half-inch sections of plastic worms on his hooks along with his baits, primarily to provide a splash of color.

"The piece of plastic worm makes the bait a bit more buoyant," the angler told Altman. "But I believe it functions most effectively as an attractor to the catfish, something to get the fish's attention. We have done informal studies on the technique and, invariably, the angler using the piece of plastic gets a bite more often."

Catfish eyes also have structures that enhance their ability to feed at night. Rods improve their sight in dim light, and each eye is lined with a thin layer of crystals (an organ called the tapetum lucidum) that reflects gathered light over sensory cells on the retina, thus improving the fish's low-light vision even more. No doubt, these ocular enhancements aid shallow-water sight feeding during twilight hours. I've often caught catfish on lures that produced no scent, sound or vibration, including tiny jigs used for crappie and sponge-rubber spiders intended for bluegills. That's all the proof I need to conclude that catfish have excellent sight despite having tiny eyes.

In extremely turbid waters, acute vision provides few benefits. Where sight distance is less limited, however — in clear water, for example — catfish use their eyes to find food and avoid predators. Anglers who understand this can use it to their advantage to catch more cats.

To purchase an autographed copy of one of Keith Sutton's catfish books, visit his website at www.catfishsutton.com.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance's Lucas Steward shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead what all of the fuss is about in the brand new Ghost trolling motor being brought to market by the Tulsa, Okla.-based fishing equipment manufacturer.

Mustad

Mustad's Inkvader Octopus Live Jig

From big fish to small, just about any saltwater game fish out there will love the new Mustad Inkvader Octopus Live Jig that Mustad's Russ Whisler shows to OSG's Lynn Burkhead.

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

 A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest.

Although the art Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest. Although...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Outdoor BBQ

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish. Records

Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

See More Trending Articles

More Catfish

Want to catch the biggest freshwater fish of your life? Target blue catfish in winter. Catfish

Winter Blues: Top Destinations for Trophy Catfish

Terry Madewell - January 06, 2020

Want to catch the biggest freshwater fish of your life? Target blue catfish in winter.

A well-planned and executed stationary approach can set the stage for outstanding summer catfishing action. Catfish

Anchor Up for Channel Cats

Steven Johnson - July 15, 2019

A well-planned and executed stationary approach can set the stage for outstanding summer...

Make big plans this year for catching big cats on Indiana's largest waterways. Fishing

Indiana Catfish Best Bets 2019

Tom Berg

Make big plans this year for catching big cats on Indiana's largest waterways.

The Lone Star State is loaded with opportunities for catfish. Here's what to expect this year and a look at some of the hottest spots to hit. Fishing

Texas Catfish Best Bets 2019

Todd Davis

The Lone Star State is loaded with opportunities for catfish. Here's what to expect this year...

See More Catfish

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.